Difference Between Lps And Sps Corals

Corals are not only fundamental to marine biodiversity but also come in various forms, each unique in structure and habitat requirements. Among the vast range of coral species, LPS (Large Polyp Stony) and SPS (Small Polyp Stony) corals are particularly prominent in reef aquariums and natural coral reefs. These two types represent distinct groups with specific characteristics and care needs.

The main difference between LPS and SPS corals lies in their physical structure and care requirements. LPS corals have larger, fleshier polyps and generally require less intense lighting and water flow, making them more suitable for beginners. In contrast, SPS corals, with their smaller polyps and denser skeletons, thrive under intense lighting and strong water flow, demanding more advanced care.

These differences are crucial for both the ecological balance of reefs and the management of home aquariums. LPS and SPS corals contribute to the reef’s structural complexity and serve as habitats for numerous marine species. Their maintenance in aquariums also reflects broader environmental conditions necessary for their survival, indicating their sensitivity to changes in marine environments.

Coral Basics

What are Corals?

Corals are marine invertebrates within the class Anthozoa of the phylum Cnidaria. They typically live in compact colonies of many identical individual polyps. Corals are some of the most fascinating and colorful marine organisms on the planet and play an essential role in marine ecosystems by building coral reefs, which are often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea.” These reefs provide habitat, shelter, and food for an enormous variety of marine species.

Coral Anatomy and Growth

The anatomy of a coral is relatively simple yet highly effective. Each polyp secretes a hard carbonate exoskeleton which protects their soft, sac-like body. The polyp’s mouth, surrounded by a ring of tentacles, serves dual functions—intake of food and expulsion of waste. Corals have a unique growth pattern driven by the division of polyps, leading to the expansion of the colony.

  • Polyp Division: New polyps sprout from the base of existing ones, creating a larger colony over time.
  • Skeleton Formation: The calcium carbonate base, known as calicle, forms the structure of coral reefs.
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LPS Corals

Characteristics of LPS Corals

Large Polyp Stony (LPS) corals are distinguished by their large, fleshy polyps and a stony base. They are often more colorful and have a variety of shapes and textures that can be visually striking in aquarium settings. LPS corals are generally hardier and can tolerate a range of lighting and flow conditions, making them suitable for beginner and intermediate reef aquarium hobbyists.

Common Types of LPS Corals

  • Brain Corals: Known for their grooved surface resembling a brain, these are quite popular in aquariums.
  • Hammer Corals: These have polyps that extend with hammer-like tips during the day.
  • Frogspawn Corals: Similar to hammer corals but with rounded tips on their tentacles.

Care Requirements for LPS

Caring for LPS corals involves maintaining appropriate water conditions and ensuring they receive the right amount of light and water flow.

  • Lighting: Moderate lighting is sufficient for most LPS corals.
  • Water Flow: Moderate flow helps keep the polyps free of debris and provides them with nutrients.
  • Water Quality: Stable water parameters with specific attention to calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium levels are crucial for optimal growth.

SPS Corals

Characteristics of SPS Corals

Small Polyp Stony (SPS) corals have small, tightly packed polyps and a dense skeleton. They are known for their incredible array of colors and complex branching shapes. SPS corals are generally more demanding regarding environmental stability, requiring consistent water conditions and high lighting levels to thrive.

Common Types of SPS Corals

  • Acropora: One of the most popular and visually diverse SPS corals, available in many colors and forms.
  • Montipora: These can be found in plating and branching forms and offer various colors.
  • Birdsnest Coral: Known for its needle-like branches and fast growth in optimal conditions.

Care Requirements for SPS

SPS corals demand high levels of care, making them suitable for advanced aquarists.

  • Lighting: High intensity lighting is crucial for the health and coloration of SPS corals.
  • Water Flow: Strong, intermittent water flows mimic natural conditions and help SPS corals thrive.
  • Water Quality: Precise control over water parameters, especially pH, salinity, and nutrients, is vital to prevent bleaching and promote growth.
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Comparison of LPS and SPS

Physical Differences

The physical distinction between LPS (Large Polyp Stony) and SPS (Small Polyp Stony) corals is marked by their polyp size, skeletal density, and overall texture. LPS corals boast larger, fleshier polyps that often give them a more robust and textured appearance. These polyps can be seen individually, each contributing to the distinct look of the coral. In contrast, SPS corals feature smaller, more compact polyps that are closely spaced, creating a smoother and more uniform surface. This difference not only influences their visual appeal but also their ecological roles and care requirements.

Growth Rates and Patterns

Growth rates between LPS and SPS corals can vary significantly:

  • LPS Corals: Typically exhibit slower growth rates due to their larger polyp size and often spread outward or upward at a moderate pace.
  • SPS Corals: Known for their faster growth rates, SPS corals can quickly expand both vertically and horizontally under optimal conditions.

These growth patterns affect how both types of corals are spaced in aquariums and natural reefs, impacting the overall planning and management of coral cultivation.

Lighting and Water Flow Needs

The environmental needs of LPS and SPS corals are notably different, particularly concerning lighting and water flow:

  • Lighting: LPS corals generally thrive under moderate lighting, while SPS corals require high-intensity lighting to maintain their health and vibrant colors.
  • Water Flow: LPS corals prefer moderate to low water flow, which helps in the accumulation of nutrients. On the other hand, SPS corals need strong, direct water flow to aid in waste removal and to prevent algae buildup on their surfaces.

Environmental Impact

Role in Marine Ecosystems

Corals play a crucial role in marine ecosystems, providing structure, shelter, and resources for a myriad of marine organisms. LPS corals, with their larger size and extensive polyps, offer shelter and feeding grounds for small fish and invertebrates. SPS corals contribute to the complexity and verticality of coral reefs, supporting different species at various levels of the reef.

Threats to LPS and SPS Corals

Both types of corals face significant threats from environmental changes and human activities:

  • Climate Change: Rising sea temperatures can lead to coral bleaching, where corals lose the vital algae they depend on for energy.
  • Ocean Acidification: Decreased pH levels in the ocean can erode coral skeletons, impeding their growth and structural integrity.
  • Pollution and Physical Damage: Runoff containing pollutants and direct physical impacts from fishing or boating can damage delicate coral structures.
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Practical Advice

Choosing Between LPS and SPS

Deciding whether to cultivate LPS or SPS corals in a reef aquarium depends on the aquarist’s experience level and commitment to maintenance:

  • Beginners: May prefer LPS corals due to their hardiness and lower light and flow requirements.
  • Advanced Hobbyists: Often gravitate towards SPS corals for their dynamic growth and vibrant colors, though this choice comes with higher demands for water quality and stability.

Tips for Successful Coral Keeping

Successful coral cultivation requires attention to several key aspects of aquarium care:

  • Water Quality: Regularly test and adjust water parameters to maintain optimal conditions for your specific type of coral.
  • Lighting and Flow: Customize the lighting and water flow to meet the specific needs of your corals. Employ timers and wavemakers to achieve consistent conditions.
  • Feeding: Understand the dietary needs of your corals. LPS may benefit from targeted feeding of larger particulate foods, whereas SPS thrive on fine, suspended nutrients.
  • Regular Maintenance: Routine cleaning and maintenance of the aquarium and its equipment ensure the health of the coral environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are LPS Corals?

LPS corals, or Large Polyp Stony corals, are characterized by their large, fleshy polyps attached to a hard calcium carbonate base. They are known for their ease of care and the dramatic aesthetic they add to aquariums, often exhibiting vibrant colors and interesting shapes.

What are SPS Corals?

SPS corals, or Small Polyp Stony corals, possess small polyps on a dense skeletal base. They are favored for their intricate colors and structures, but they require precise water conditions, making them more suitable for experienced aquarists.

How do LPS and SPS Corals differ in care requirements?

LPS corals generally require less intense lighting and gentler water flow compared to SPS corals. This makes LPS a better choice for beginners or aquarists with less controlled environments. On the other hand, SPS corals demand high lighting and strong water currents to thrive, reflecting their natural high-energy reef habitats.

Can LPS and SPS Corals coexist in the same aquarium?

Yes, LPS and SPS corals can coexist in the same aquarium provided that careful zoning is practiced. It’s crucial to arrange the aquarium so each coral type receives its specific care needs without imposing stress on the other, considering their different requirements for light and water flow.


In conclusion, understanding the key differences between LPS and SPS corals is essential for any reef enthusiast or marine aquarist. Each type offers unique challenges and rewards, reflecting the diversity and complexity of marine life. By recognizing and respecting these differences, aquarists can better support the health and growth of their corals, contributing to the preservation of marine biodiversity.

Furthermore, the choice between LPS and SPS corals should align with an aquarist’s experience level and commitment to maintaining specific water conditions. As stewards of these miniature ecosystems, aquarists play a crucial role in replicating natural habitats and promoting the well-being of these fascinating marine organisms.

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